On March 24th, Syrian state TV (SANA) quoted an unnamed military official as saying, “government forces are repelling attempts by terrorist groups to infiltrate the outskirts of Idlib.” The official said clashes are ongoing, and troops inflicted “heavy losses” on the attackers. The government refers to the rebels as “the terrorists.”
A homogenous group of rebels operating “under the umbrella of al-Fatih Army” liberated the City of Idlib. The fight for the city took several days of hard fighting, but it was March 25th when there was a sudden turn in favor of the rebels.
Sixteen regime military checkpoints mysteriously started to become deserted on March 25th. Over a period of time all the checkpoints became deserted and the al-Fatih Amy was able to move past the checkpoints, and begin moving into Idlib. We wrote in a prior story that said after the checkpoints opened, the fight for Idlib although not over was decisively easier. There was not a battalion of regime soldiers in Idlib waiting to do urban combat for the city. Most of the regime soldiers were gone.
According to LiveLeak, the regime security forces investigated the desertion of the checkpoints and determined that thirty-six soldiers of all ranks and across military services had collaborated with the rebels to liberate the city. The thirty-six regime soldiers were found “guilty of the crime of desertion of their post and collaboration with the enemy and were summarily executed in the field by the security forces on March 25th.”
The effort to liberate the city has been repeatedly called a “take-over by al-Qaeda” by Western media. It is well documented that the City was liberated by a well-coordinated effort that included both Islamist groups and FSA groups.
LiveLeak stated the attack on Idlib was developed over a two month period, and wasn’t executed until all the agreed upon decision points were settled upon by all parties. The military groups joined under one operations room called “Operation Conquest.” The operation included “six thousand fighters deployed in a wide area in the Idlib country side and at various monitoring points, including a primary group of fighters that moved forward inside the city.”
City of Idlib Free From Oppression
The Syrian News Agency (SANA) complained “Turkey was responsible for rallying and uniting the militants [al-Fatih Army] helping them achieve victory.” SANA accused al-Fatih of “achieving victory by following the methods of battle used by the Syrian army and turning those same methods back on the Syrian army to defeat them.”
The Syrian News Agency also said, “The attacking forces adopted a new combat pattern based on multiple axes, simultaneous attack and density numbers used in the attack until it reached seven times the defending forces. This prompted the withdrawal of the regime forces by order, avoiding attrition or exhaustion. The regime pulled back so that the regime army units could carry out repositioning.”
Is this Assad’s way of publicly excusing the Syrian Army’s dismal performance?
Mohammed Salloum, a Syrian opposition activist from Idlib, told ARA News (a Syrian Independent Press), “the surprise factor has had a decisive role in this victory against the Assad army in the city and its suburbs. The indifference of many pro-regime soldiers inside the city [contributed], because they believed the clashes would last for two days and will end as usual.” Salloum said this led to the collapse of the Assad army in the area.
The City of Idlib on March 31st may have been the last major city in Syria with little or no damage. For people who have never seen Syria as anything but barrel bombs and crumbled buildings, this view by a young Syrian photo journalist is worth a moment of pause.
According to my source, the Regime military left Idlib with a large contingent of prisoners from the Idlib prison(s). It is unclear whether the prisoners would be used as human shields, negotiating “leverage” or if they would be executed at some other location rather than give the liberators the satisfaction of seeing them go free.
When the rebels entered one of the Military Security Branch Prisons, what they found was shocking! The rebels walked into a massacre, inside the security branch building including 15 people (one was a woman). According to Shahba Press, their sources in Idlib who had access to the martyred prisoners after the entry into the prison said, “a large number of firearm bullets penetrated their bodies and they appeared to bear signs of torture and beatings.
Shahba press sources said they witnessed bodies that were tortured and murdered by multiple gunshot wounds to each body. Wouldn’t this be considered a heinous war crime by the Assad Regime?
The presence of the dead woman at the prison among the men proves a grotesque lie that has been repeated by Assad and his regime. The lie has been relayed over and over, including at the Geneva II Conference. The Assad regime insists, “The regime does not hold, torture [or kill] women in any Assad prisons.” The truth is in the facts, because in this prison a woman was found dead and at least two others were found alive.
It should be noted that the Victims Documentation Center of Syria has logged many cases of women imprisoned and tortured in Assad prisons.
Video: Opposition Detainees Massacred By Regime Before They Deserted Al-Nasiri Prison
In the City of Idlib Security Prison, the prisoners were held “numerous men in cells chest-to-chest like cattle.” As the liberators opened the doors, the men in the prison cages poured out, some yelling “Allah Akbar” [God is the Greatest]. Other men were so overwhelmed they broke into tears, hugging and kissing the men who came to open the doors that had caged them.
In the video below, one man said he had been incarcerated for ten years for his political beliefs. The source from Shahba Press said “the rebels freed scores of detainees from Assad prisons in Idlib, most of whom were arrested because of issues related to their participation in the revolution or for providing assistance to the rebels.” Fifteen prisoners were found dead, killed by the regime, and hundreds were released from prisons in the city.
Idlib Activist Video: Release of Prisoners at Al-Nasiri Security Prison
Notice two women prisoners that were set free that are asked to be seated in a waiting area
The Emir [Leader] of Ahrar al-Sham which is one of the Islamic groups that made up the al-Fatih Army also made a statement, but it was directed to the “forces of the lion” on March 29th according to Shahba Press. The message “sent to the impudent enemy [was] any cowardly bombing targeting civilians on our people in Idlib, it will get our response similar to the towns of Virulence and Kefraya including the mercenaries of Iran, and you will see us as with the Fear of God.”
Also on March 29th, the Daily Star of Lebanon reported, the opposition in exile announced they would move their seat of power from Turkey to Syria quoting:
“The Syrian provisional government will strive to make the free city of Idlib an example to the entire world about what Syrians want for the future of their country.
It will begin sending its [government bodies] to work inside the city, along with the local council for the province of Idlib, to begin coordinating with its partners and with the [militias] and influential forces to make the city a headquarters for administering liberated regions of Syria.”
Regime bombing in retaliation for the “Operation Conquest” began shortly thereafter on March 29th. By April 1st, EAU World View reported “the Assad Regime was continuing its’ bombing of Idlib in northwest Syria, reportedly killing dozens of people as it retaliates for last weekend’s loss of the city to rebels.
The Anadolu Agency reported on April 6th Opposition officials said, “At least 104 people have been killed in the Syrian City of Idlib, nine days after it was liberated from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad by opposition fighters. More than 100 civilians were killed after regime jets carried out heavy airstrikes on Monday which also left dozens of others wounded.”
The Syrian National Coalition said:
“Our primary concern now is the plight of civilians in Idlib who are already being subjected to indiscriminate retaliatory barrel bomb attacks by the Assad regime. This even includes reports of new chemical weapons attacks.
Syrian Civil Defense groups are actively working on the ground to ensure civilians are evacuated from areas targeted by the regime. But the bravery of these individuals is not a sustainable solution. The regime has already shown in Homs that if it loses territory, it will respond by inflicting total destruction. The international community must not allow Idlib to suffer the same fate as Homs at the hands of Assad’s air force.”
The Syrian National Coalition continues to call for a no-fly zone to “protect civilians on the ground from Assad’s aerial attacks, enable safer access for humanitarian aid and create the space needed to establish moderate governance and basic services.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Raifah Sammea, a former member of the Opposition Provincial Council, said “Airstrikes are trying to disrupt basic services and prevent the establishment of a new administration over Idlib. The office of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the hospital, and the City Hall have all been attacked. Officials have moved to Idlib to begin restoration of health care and education, but cannot begin work until the attacks cease.”
Inside the hospital in the City of Idlib were regime soldiers that has been injured during the battles for Idlib. With the attack on the hospital, they were now either doubly wounded or dead. Syrian rebels tweeted, “Why is the regime targeting a hospital where their own wounded are?”
Hospital in City of Idlib Suffers Severe Damage
On April 1st, the Syrian American Medical Association which sponsors physicians and a hospital in Sarmin just outside of Idlib City had this to say:
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is gravely concerned about an impending humanitarian disaster as the situation in Idlib, northwestern Syria, rapidly escalates. SAMS hospitals have seen victims from at least five chemical attacks in the last two weeks, and at least two hospitals in Idlib have been targeted and hit by airstrikes in the last week. SAMS warns that the humanitarian situation will continue to worsen and strikes against civilians, including with the use of chemical agents, will likely intensify without immediate international engagement.
Between March 16 and 26, SAMS-affiliated hospitals saw victims from at least five instances of chemical attacks. In all five instances, barrel bombs were dropped on civilian populated areas and victims experienced symptoms of chlorine exposure. A SAMS-sponsored field hospital in Sarmin, Idlib was targeted and damaged by a missile strike on March 26. On Monday, March 30, another airstrike destroyed a Syrian Red Crescent hospital in Idlib city.
Citizens continue to be bombed daily. President of SAMS Dr. Zaher Sahloul said, “When I spoke with the doctors from the emergency room in Sarmin’s hospital, I asked them what they needed most from the international community. They said, ‘Stop the bombing.'”
As the regime and militia forces withdrew from the City of Idlib, according to Shahba Press they accumulated in large numbers near the camp of Al-Mastumah. Rebels that followed the regime forces to Al-Mastumah, were on a mission to ensure that they were not to return to the city. Sources reported to Shahba Press on April 2nd that the rebels were in control of the camp and that “lion elements had been killed and five military vehicles were destroyed.”
Shabah Press report on April 5th that the al-Fatih Army has had good success containing the Al-Mastumah camp. Their sources reported that “the al-Fatih Army had lost tens of martyrs, while they had killed several hundred regime soldiers.”
Meanwhile, back in Idlib, there have been reports according to Liveleak that the al-Fatih Army has mistreated people in the Christian community of 1800 people. The al-Nusra leader, Sheik Abu-Wahid who says he is of the City of Idlib, personally visited the leader of the Christian community to extend his apologies and stated, “We didn’t do that of the infiltrators. I am trying to be in the neighborhoods to make sure they are safe and secure.” The video below covers the Sheik’s entire conversation.
Sheik Abu-Wahid, Nusra leader says anyone messes with Christians in City of Idlib will be dealt with
According to LiveLeak, “the incursion on the Christian community was ‘the criminal Khomeniest Regime’ gone berserk at the Christians of Idlib for not following them out of the city like they were told to do. The Regime swore revenge and they wasted no time making good on their promise against the Christians by dropping a massive barrel bomb on the community.” It should be noted that the regime specifically targeted the Christian community with their barrel bombs, and did not hit anywhere near any of the al-Fatih army.
Christian Community Bombed In Retribution By Assad Regime
Although there is no translation, the distress, anxiety and anger towards the Assad regime is evident.
LiveLeak also said, “The head of the Christians in Idlib is very worried and reached out to them [al-Nusra] and the Islamic Front knowing full well what the Khomeniest Regime [Assad] is capable of.” The Nusrah leader told him, “You leave the Regime agents to us but we can’t do anything against the Chlorine Barrel Bombs yet.” The reference to “Regime agents” implies that the regime has left spies in Idlib and “chlorine barrel bombs” is a direct reference to reports from activists that the regime dropped chemical weaponized barrel bombs on the City of Idlib.
Additionally, talk has been floated that the Greek Orthodox Priest Father Ibrahim Farah has been abducted. However, according to a video statement from Father Farah the abduction is also a “confusing rumor.” On March 31, Notes on Arab Orthodoxy published, “The head of the Evangelical Church in Aleppo, Father Ibrahim Nusayr, has confirmed to el-Nashra that Jabhat al-Nusra has kidnapped the Orthodox priest Father Ibrahim Farah in Idlib: ‘He is the only priest to have remained in the city. Father Ibrahim Farah, one of the few priests of Idlib, was captured along with part of his small flock by Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, and that the prisoners are waiting to appear before the sharia court in Idlib, which before the conflict began in 2011 has only a few hundred Christians.'”
It is unclear what Father Farah’s status is at this time, however, this is what he had to say on April 4th:
In an interview in the New York Times, Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and former Saudi government advisor said, “The Syrian government last week accused Turkey of helping thousands of jihadi fighters reach Idlib by jamming Syrian army telecommunications. The regime said this helped to undermine the defenses of the city.” The prominent Saudi role in the fall of Idlib was publicized by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, saying they had backed Jabhat al-Nusra and the other groups in capturing Idlib.
Jamal Khashoggi was also interviewed by the WSJ and said, “Taking matters into our own [Saudi] hands is the name of the game today.” He went on to say, “A deal [with Iran] will open up the Saudi appetite and the Turkish appetite for more nuclear programs. But for the time being Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its operations to pull the carpet out from underneath the Iranians in our region.” He said that Saudi Arabia’s own campaign to push back against Iran was showing signs of success.
What success is Jamal Khashoggi talking about?
According to the New York Times, Jamal Khashoggi said “Saudi Arabia and Turkey sponsors had backed the coalition of fighting groups that recently liberated the Syrian City of Idlib.” Jamal pointed out this was the first major victory against the Assad regime in months. Khashoggi said “This success was an important development and the coordination between Saudi and Turkish coordinated has never been good as it is now.”
Assad believes the international community is unwilling to take action against him. Are the lies that Bashar al-Assad has been telling so effective that people believe them; or are politicians so disinterested in another war that they will believe anything that justifies their “do nothing” position?
The Assad Regime has not functioned as a sovereign government since Iran became heavily involved in its affairs. Syria has become a “puppet regime” of Iran since the “Khomeniest regime” started to assume “power and control.” The taking of the City of Idlib is not only a blow for Assad, but it is a blow for Iran. What is Iran’s interest in Syria?
According to the Institute for the Study of War, “Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al-Assad in Power for as long as possible, while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall. Iran is providing critical support to the Syrian government specifically to “preserve Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power;” including but not necessarily only:
- Iranian Security and Intelligence Services – advise and assist the Syrian military in order to preserve Assad hold on power. This has evolved over time from advisory, to training, and into military participation through ground forces using Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), Qud Force, Intelligence Service, and Law Enforcement Forces.
- Iran has been providing essential military supplies to Assad primarily by air. It has been a known fact that Iran has been using commercial airlines departing from the International Airport in Tehran and landing in Damascus to avoid suspicion or possible danger of a military plane being shot down or an operation being interrupted at a Syrian airfield.
- Iran has been assisting pro-government shabiha militia (aka loyalists gangs, mafia criminals) to prevent the contraction of the regime into Damascus or a coastal enclave. Tehran expects these militia to become dependent upon them, so that they can maintain operability from inside.
- When Assad began to lose control in 2012, the Lebanese Hezbollah were given a direct combat role in Syria. They have supported Assad with a robust, well-trained force whose involvement is strategically in alignment with Iranian Interest as Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged.
- Iraqi Shi’a militia have been overtly been supporting Assad in Syria since 2012 under the Abu al-Fadi al-Abbas Brigade, which is a pro-Assad government militia made up of both Syrian and foreign Shiite fighters. Lately, foreign fighters are coming from as far away as Afghanistan and Yemen. The fallacy that only “terrorist” groups like ISIS import their fighters to Syria is overplayed by the media.
Nothing that the Institute has pointed out is new information, but it is well worth repeating. Iran is well known as the largest funder of terrorism in the Levant and beyond. They are funders of the Iraqi militia, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis, and other projects in the past and those yet to be planned.
Why does Iran pour so much of its resources into terrorism and the business of other countries? Wouldn’t it be in Iran’s own interest to invest in its own country and people? What is the end game?